A Trip to the Cannabis Fair? What??? No Way!

I didn't expect to find George at the fair.

I didn’t know what type of things I would find at the Cannabis Fair, but a painting of George standing in the middle of a marijuana farm and glowing green wasn’t one of them.

 

Occasionally, I slip in a blog that is outside of my 10,000-mile bicycle trek series. Today we are going to a cannabis fair…

So here I was on Saturday morning, staring out our windows at the mountains, listening to the morning news on TV, and wondering what I was going to do with my day. Peggy was back East playing with the kids and grandkids. I had just put up my post on the Scopes Trial, responded to all my comments, and checked in on the people I follow. I was actually caught up on blogging, a rare occasion— as most of you bloggers will recognize.

The weather person was predicting a 110° F degree-day. Playing or working outside wasn’t an option and I had completed most of my indoor chores. In fact, I had just pushed Robota’s button (Robota is our iRobot vacuum cleaner), and she was charging around, sucking up dirt, and cleaning rugs and floors. She’d return to her dock and plug-in when she needed recharging. I do wish she would learn to clean out her dirt bin, though. It’s such a bother; I could use the two minutes for something else… (Grin)

In other words, I had time on my hands. What’s a fellow to do? That’s when the local television anchor announced that the Cannabis Fair was being held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in the main exhibit hall. Now I love fairs, and I have been seriously deprived this year (if you don’t count the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, Alaska and the International Ice Carving contest in Fairbanks). We missed the local Jackson County Fair because we had to go to Sacramento and arrived in Sacramento just as the California State Fair ended. To top off this tale of woe, I am taking a break from Burning Man.

But go to the Cannabis Fair and blog about it? No way! What would people think? And then I thought, why not. Marijuana is now legal in Oregon. In fact, I voted for the measure to legalize it. The majority of Americans support the idea. Why? One reason is that prohibition doesn’t work; it never has. Look at what happened with alcohol in the 1920s. If people wanted a drink, they found it. The main result of the Prohibition was the creation of the American Mafia. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas provides an excellent history of how it happened.

A similar thing happened with marijuana. Smoking a joint in the 1950s could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of $20,000— for a first time offender. Did this stop marijuana use? Remember the 60s? I do, vaguely (kidding). Our demand for marijuana, combined with laws against cultivation, led to its illegal production. What a surprise. Millions, and even billions of dollars were to be made. Drug cartels sprang up like weeds outside of the US to supply us. Tragically, thousands have been killed and whole political systems corrupted as a result. Here, billions of tax dollars (that is your money and mine) have gone into creating large government agencies that haven’t made a dent in the flow of pot.

Maybe the billions we spent on trying to suppress marijuana would be worth it, if the drug were the devil it was portrayed to be in Reefer Madness and other such anti-pot campaigns. But the truth is— it isn’t. The negative physical and social impacts are no worse than alcohol, and may indeed be less. A growing body of evidence suggests that a number medical benefits derive from cannabis. Contrast this with the health effects of tobacco. Numerous states have passed laws making medical marijuana use legal. And several have now made it legal for recreational use as well.

Cloth hanging art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jacksonville County, Oregon.

I am not sure what the artist had in mind with this cloth hanging I found at the Fair, but I thought it provided a good perspective on how people view the effects of marijuana. On the left is the perspective of the cannabis industry, the pro-legalization forces and most users. On the right is how those who support the Reefer Madness point of view see it.

But it’s time to climb down off my soapbox (sort of). We have a fair to go to! I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to find. Let me start with noting there were no pigs, or goats, or bunny rabbits— the usual reasons I go to a fair. This was a serious endeavor. Pot growing is big business for small farms in my neck of the woods. Six are visible along the 30-mile road between where I live on the Applegate River and Medford. They hardly blend in.

The law requires that marijuana farmers put their crops behind 8-foot fences if they are located within 150 feet of the highway, supposedly to protect children from seeing them. Instead the fences serve as huge billboards that scream: WE GROW POT! If you can find a six-year-old in Jackson County that doesn’t know what is happening behind those fences, I’d be surprised. And you can bet they are much more intrigued by the hidden marijuana than they would be if the plants were simply grown out in the open like any other crop. Plus the fences are butt-ugly.

Marijuana farms that are visible from the road in Oregon, are required to be surrounded by 8-foot fences.

This fence, legally required by Oregon law to conceal a cannabis farm, is about a mile away from my house.

I wandered around from booth to booth at the fair, taking photos for my blog (after asking permission) and chatting with folks tending the booths. There was potting soil and pot pots. There were salves and seeds. There were lawyers and accountants and security specialists and equipment sales people. One man was offering a bud trimmer for $300 that looked like a combination of an electric razor and a mini-hedge trimmer. He provided a demonstration. Bzzzzzz! I could picture him at a cannabis shop saying, “This Bud’s for you.”

Pots for growing marijuana on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I couldn’t help but think pot pots when I saw these. And please note: they are made in the USA.

And of course you need potting soil for pot pots.

And of course you need premium potting soil for pot pots. What better than Cloud 9, Zen Blend, and Gaia’s Gift?

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of string that have been developed, all with different strengths, and if you accept the literature, different qualities.

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of strains that have been developed, all with different strengths, and, if you accept the literature, qualities.I wonder which one will give me an irresistible craving for ice cream?

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as this magical butter makers. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain the results, and you are ready to make cookies!

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as these magical butter pots. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain, and you are ready to make cookies!

I wandered into a dome tent set up by Pacific Domes. It reminded me of the structures at Burning Man. Even some of the wall hangings seemed familiar. And there was the painting of George Washington enjoying a pipe I featured at the top of the blog. Robert, the account executive, told me that a lot of their tents do make it to Burning Man. I asked him how they handled the windstorms. “They are designed to withstand gusts up to 8o miles per hour,” he told me.

A dome tent from the Pacific Dome company on display at Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Both domed tents and greenhouses were promoted at the fair for growing marijuana.

Dome tent for growing cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The tent was appropriately camouflaged.

Cannabis art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The wall hangings in the tent reminded me very much of Burning Man, although you don’t flaunt marijuana use in Black Rock City. The event is crawling with law enforcement people happy to bust you.

All types of pipes were available for smoking, some even glowed in the dark under a black light. The folks at Bayshore Smoking Glass from Coos Bay broke out several for me to photograph. Some of the pipes were quite attractive, and some were downright funny. How would you like your pot pipe to look like an octopus?

Cannabis pipes for smoking marijuana found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I found the variety of pipes fun. What can I say. An incredible amount of creativity goes in to producing them.

A variety of pipes for smoking marijuana at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

This one even glowed when placed under a black light.

This one even glowed in the dark.

"Living the Pipe Dreams" cannabis pipes on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Dianne told me I could photograph her art work if I put her card in the picture.

Bongs for smoking cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I also found these bongs, or water pipes, rather unique.

Maybe you aren’t into smoking but still want to indulge. Then there are edibles, or medibles for medical marijuana. I stopped by a booth featuring Mary Lou’s Edibles and talked with Mary Lou. She had some delicious looking peanut butter cookies on display. “Are these samples?” I asked. (While no marijuana was for sale at the fair, some booths were offering free samples that you were required to take off of the premises before consuming.) “No,” she said, “but you can go online and order them.” She handed me her card. It announced, “Made with Oregon Cannabis and Love by the Happy Granny.” I’ll bet she is.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair. Oregon state law prohibits consumption in public areas.

Kettle Corn anyone?

Kettle Corn anyone? A number of booths had edibles on display. They ranged from kettle corn, to chocolate, to cookies, to brownies and candy. An important issue is keeping these products away from children.

Mimim's medical marijuana being displayed at the Cannais Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

When edibles are used for medical purposes, they are called ‘medibles.’ I share a concern with the cannabis industry that the pharmaceutical industry will step in, patent medicines, and charge a hundred times more for medical marijuana than people presently pay. I feel the same way about agribusiness stepping in and wiping out the thousands of small farms that now grow cannabis.

A series of lectures were being offered and I stopped by to listen to one being given by Pioneer Pete Gendron. Pete represents Oregon’s marijuana growers on the state level. I am assuming that his pioneer status comes from being one of Oregon’s original pot growers. He certainly looks the part. He is also a highly intelligent and articulate man. He talked about cannabis politics in Oregon. I learned the reason behind the 8-foot fences from him. I also learned that marijuana isn’t quite the water hog it is claimed to be. Alfalfa requires seven times as much water to grow.

Pioneer Pete was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming.

Pioneer Pete Gendron was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming and consumption.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, continues to label marijuana as a class-1 drug, on par with heroin. Pete told us that when the cannabis industry requested an opportunity to prove it didn’t belong at that level, the DEA said, “We can’t do that. It is a class-1 drug,” i.e. it is illegal to use so any evidence you gather using it is illegal. Makes complete sense, right. Have you ever read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22?

The times they are a-changing, however. Cannabis plants will join carrots and cabbages at this year’s Oregon State Fair. How much more mainstream can you go? California will vote on legalization for recreational use this fall. On the national level, the Democratic Platform includes a plank that would push for legalization nation-wide. It is only a matter of time.

That’s it for the break! It’s back to bicycling in my next blog. We have a mountain range to climb over: the Great Smokies!

The Scopes Trial, a BIG dog, and a Speeding Semi… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

In 1925, William Jennings Bryan debated with Clarence Darrow in this courthouse over whether evolution should be taught in Tennessee schools.

The Dayton, Tennessee Courthouse where the Scopes Trial took place in 1925.

I had left Spencer and was heading for Pikeville on Highway 30 when the dog came roaring out to eat me. He was a big dog, a really BIG, ugly dog. His daddy must have been a Bullmastiff and his mommy a Rottweiler. And I am sure that he had experienced an unhappy puppyhood. I was about to drop down a steep hill; thirty feet farther and I could have cranked down on my pedals and been gone. As it was, I leapt off my bike and grabbed my air pump, careful to keep my bike between the monster and me. “No, bad dog!” I yelled. He growled. I reached down and grabbed a large rock. Usually this is a sign for the dog to exit the scene. All he did was snarl deep snarls and creep forward, salivating, ready to pounce. Oh boy, I thought, this is it.

And then fate intervened. It was almost enough to make me change my ideas about God. A bee landed on his nose and stung him. Or maybe it was a large horsefly that bit him. Whatever it was, I was on my bike and out of there faster than he could fall to the ground and start pawing at his abused snout. Had he been a cheetah, he might have caught me. But I doubt it.

The dog would have had to run very fast to catch me.

The dog would have had to run very fast to catch me.

Highway 30 in eastern Tennessee runs in an east-west direction and cuts across the Cumberland Plateau.

Highway 30 at a more leisurely pace.

Another view.

Another view.

I forgave the dog. It was up to his owner to keep him leashed or in his yard. And I suspect he had been trained to behave as he did. I wasn’t so forgiving of the truck driver that gave me flying lessons.

I had been daydreaming and taken a wrong turn out of Pikeville. Discovering my mistake, I had turned around and was happily contemplating a hamburger. That’s when the 18-wheeler came up behind me going about 60.  A car was coming from the other direction. The truck driver didn’t even slow down. He flew by inches away. The turbulence from the rear of the truck literally raised my bike and me three feet off of the ground. I landed hard. How I managed to stay upright, I don’t know. The only damage was two flats. It could have been ever so worse. A kind, Tennessee driver stopped to make sure I was okay. The trucker just kept on trucking.

I made it into Dayton without any further incidents. It’s a pretty town that borders on the Tennessee River. The Scopes Trial is its claim to fame. The event started as a publicity stunt.

Dayton is next to the Tennessee River. After crossing it in Alabama on the Natchez Trace, I had returned to it.

Dayton is next to the Tennessee River. After crossing it in Alabama on the Natchez Trace, I had returned to it.

The Tennessee River flows by Dayton, TN where the 1925 Scopes Trail took place.

I liked this view of it with the sun captured in the trees.

Sunset on the Tennessee River near Dayton in eastern Tennessee.

And at sunset.

In 1925, the State of Tennessee had passed a law that outlawed teaching evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had responded by offering to support anyone who would challenge the law. Some business people in Dayton, meeting over coffee at the local drug store, had decided that jumping into the fray would give their community some much-needed publicity and improve its stagnant economy. They recruited a substitute science teacher, John Scopes, to claim he had taught evolution in the local high school. (Scopes actually didn’t remember whether he had or not.) He was duly arrested and the circus came to town.

The actual table where the business leaders of Dayton plotted out the steps that would lead to the Scopes Trial. The background photograph is of Robinson's drug store where they met with John Scopes.

The actual table where the business leaders of Dayton plotted out the steps that would lead to the Scopes Trial. The background photograph is of Robinson’s drug store where they met. This display is included in an excellent small museum in the basement of the courthouse.

William Jennings Bryan arrived for the prosecution. He was a populist who had run for President (unsuccessfully) three times on the Democratic ticket and was considered the best orator in the US. He had fought against big banks and big corporations. You may be familiar with his most famous quote: “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” He supported women getting the right to vote. He was also a devout Christian who favored prohibition and fervently believed that humans had jumped from clay and ribs to who we are— without any messy steps between. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association sponsored him.

Another view of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton. A state of William Jennings Bryan is located in front. A debate is going on in the community now over whether to add a statue of Clarence Darrow.

Another view of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton. A statue of William Jennings Bryan is located in front. A debate is going on in the community now over whether to add a statue of Clarence Darrow, who argued on behalf of evolution.

The architect who planned the Rhea County Courthouse where the Scopes trial took place designed the windows to look like crosses.

A guard at the courthouse was quite proud to show us that the architect of the building had incorporated windows that look like crosses, reflecting the Christian influence of the time.

Clarence Darrow came to defend John Scopes and the cause of teaching evolution in schools on behalf of the ACLU. He shared many of Bryan’s beliefs. He was a populist and Democrat who devoted his life to defending those he considered underdogs. He represented labor interests and became known as one of the best criminal defense lawyers ever. He passionately opposed the death penalty. His religious views were that of an agnostic, believing that we cannot know for sure whether God exists, and, if so, what his (or her) true nature is.

Media came from around the world to witness this colossal battle between science and religion, as did every huckster for hundreds of miles around. The Baltimore Sun sent its nationally renowned reporter, H.L. Mencken, to report on the event. Mencken was noted for his sharp tongue, cynicism, and biting humor. He had coined the phrase ‘Bible Belt’ and had immediately dubbed the Scopes Trial the ‘monkey trial.’ He described the prosecution and jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” It was Mencken who had encouraged Darrow to participate.

For all of the hoopla, little was decided by the trial. The judge, a man with fundamentalist beliefs, suppressed any evidence on behalf of evolution. The jury was only allowed to consider whether Scopes was guilty of breaking Tennessee law, which he had according to his own testimony. He was found guilty and fined $100. (The charge and fine were later dropped on a technicality.)

The issue obviously didn’t go away. Millions of words have been written about the trial. It was recreated in the 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy.  Tennessee didn’t remove the statute barring evolution from being taught until 1967.

Today, fundamentalists argue that evolution should be taught in US schools only as a theory with “intelligent design” being given equal billing. Teachers, principals, school boards and state legislatures continue to be pressured to bring the Bible back into the classroom. I’ve told the story before how a parent walked into Peggy’s office when she was principal of an elementary school and demanded that all books on dinosaurs in the school library be removed because dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible. She had told the man that he had the right to remove his son from the school, but the books were staying. If the son stayed, he was going to learn about dinosaurs.

Dayton is still reaping the benefits of the trial. It has rebuilt the courtroom where the Scopes Trial took place to look exactly like it did in 1925. Once a year it has a pageant that relives the trial. Peggy and I made a point of visiting the courthouse on our route review.

The stairway up to the courtroom where the Scopes Trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.

Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, John Scopes and everyone else involved in the trial would have walked up these elegant steps.

An exact recreation of the courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee where the scopes trial was held.

The actual courtroom as it has been recreated.

Given that I am 96% great ape, genetically speaking, I take the stand as Clarence Darrow. (grin)

Given that I am 96% great ape, genetically speaking, I take the stand as Clarence Darrow. (grin) The ghostly judge objected to my attire and opinions.

NEXT BLOG: It’s up and over the Great Smokey Mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina where bears roam the streets! (Sort of.)

 

Man or Monkey? The Scopes Trial: Part I… The 10,000 Mile Bicycle Trek

Monkey photo from the Scopes' Monkey Trial museum at the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

Speaking into an old-fashioned microphone, a monkey reports on the Scopes 1925 trial on teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. I found this photo in the museum of the courthouse where the trial took place.

My father once told me that the world was 6,000 years old and that evolution was “a bunch of hooey.” Those were his exact words. He hadn’t always thought this way, but he was in his mid-80’s and the Pearly Gates were beckoning. His occasional reading of the Bible had turned into a full-time passion. He didn’t acquire this viewpoint from the Bible, however. He got it direct— from a radio preacher, a man he regularly sent generous donations to from his meager social security income.

I thought of this as I bicycled up the steep ridges of the Cumberland Plateau and passed by rocks that dated back 500 million years. And I thought about it even more as I biked on toward the town of Dayton, Tennessee. Dayton was the site of the famous Scopes Trial where William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow had gone toe to toe in 1925 over whether evolution could be taught in the public schools of Tennessee. The trial turned out to be a media circus, a first-rate dog and pony show, or, maybe I should say, a man and monkey show. Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn.

The rocks along Tennessee Highway 30 as it climbs up on to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee are 500 million years old, or 6000 if you accept the Bible account.

The rocks along Tennessee Highway 30 as it climbs up on to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee are 500 million years old, or 6,000 if you accept the Bible account.

I started this particular section of my journey through Tennessee at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester. It’s a delightful place perched between deep gorges carved out by the Duck and Little Duck Rivers. Indigenous people in the area took advantage of its location to build what archeologists think was a ceremonial center over 1500 years ago. In the early 1800s, Americans discovered that the quick flowing Duck River was ideal for running water-powered mills. A gun powder mill was operated at the location during the Civil War to supply Confederate armies, until Union Troops destroyed it.

Old Stone Fort Park outside of Manchester, Tennessee.

All that remains of the 1500 plus year old Native American ceremonial center at Old Stone Fort Park is this peaceful meadow.

Indigenous people built an earthen wall around their ceremonial center that came to be known as the Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, Tennessee.

An ancient earthen wall, seen on the left, surrounds the ceremonial center. Visitors are invited to stroll along this pleasant wooded path around Old Stone Fort.

Dugout canoe at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, TN.

Peggy checks out a replica of a dugout canoe that Native Americans would have used in the region. Fire was used to hollow out these canoes.

All that remains of a water driven paper mill at Old Stone Fort. The mill supplied paper for a number of Southern Newspapers,

All that remains of a water-driven mill at Old Stone Fort. The mill supplied paper for a number of Southern newspapers.

The interesting history of the park is matched by its beauty. Multiple waterfalls are created as the rapidly descending Duck and Little Duck Rivers cascade over ledges made of limestone.

Waterfall on Duck River at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, Tennessee.

One of several beautiful waterfalls found on the Duck River of Tennessee as it flows through Old Stone Fort State Park.

Old Stone Fort State Park waterfall on Duck River in Tennessee.

Another.

Waterfall flowing off of a limestone ledge at Old Stone State Park in Tennessee.

And another.

I was reluctant to leave, but the open road called. I followed Tennessee State Route 55 out of Manchester and on toward McMinnville. For those of you into music, Manchester is the site of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of fans annually. It is like a modern-day Woodstock or, if you will, a musical Burning Man. Attendees camp out for four days on a 700-acre farm.

The ride into McMinnville was relative easy in terms of terrain. This was about to change. In McMinnville, I picked up Highway 30. A look at a map of eastern Tennessee will show that most roads in the region follow a north-south direction. There’s a reason. Fast flowing rivers running south off of the Cumberland Plateau have cut deep valleys, leaving behind high, steep ridges. It’s a lot easier to build roads following the river valleys than it is to scramble up and over the ridges.

McMinnville is an attractive town which includes, among other things, this striking Methodist Church built in the 1800s.

McMinnville is an attractive town which includes, among other things, this striking Methodist Church built in the 1800s.

Steeple of Methodist Church found in McMinnville, Tennessee.

I was particularly impressed with the steeple. It would be fun to check out the view from the upper windows.

Street lamps decorate the main street of McMinnville, Tennessee.

These street lamps added a feel of authenticity to McMinnville’s Main Street running through the revitalized historic section of town.

Peggy and I found this shop in McMinnville and I had to post it: A music store that sells ice cream and guns!

Peggy and I found this shop in McMinnville and I had to post a photo: A music store that sells ice cream and guns! What can I say…

Highway 30 follows the scramble route; it runs east and west. I was about to climb on a roller coaster: 1000 feet up, 1000 feet down, 1000 feet up, 1000 feet down. And these were serious ups or downs, as I quickly discovered a few miles out of McMinnville when I started a switchback ascent to the small town of Spencer.

An old building along Highway 30 in Tennessee.

Highway 30 outside of McMinnville going east provided a hint that I was entering the hilly terrain of the Cumberland Plateau. Here I was dropping into a creek canyon. I would soon be climbing toward Spencer.

An old barn along highway 30 outside of McMinnville, Tennessee.

An old barn I found along the highway.

Although this was from a recent election, I found it interesting. Long before billboards lined the highways of America, advertising was done on old barns.

Although this was from a recent political campaign, I found it interesting. Long before billboards lined the highways of America, advertising was done on buildings.

Spencer was named for one of the longhunters of the 1700’s who made their way from Virginia into the wilds of Kentucky and Tennessee. I used to think they were given the name for the long muskets they carried, guns that they were amazingly accurate with— as the British were to learn. (They also shot at the Red Coats from behind trees and rocks, which wasn’t considered fair in the European wars of the times. You were supposed to walk at each other in long lines wearing bright uniforms and be mowed down like real men.)

I later learned that they were named longhunters because they went on long hunts. Duh. Daniel Boone was one such fellow. He’d be away for months at a time, only to return home long enough to get his wife pregnant before taking off again. Poor Rebecca was left behind to tend the crops and kids. Pioneer women were tough. But they could also get lonely. Once, when Boone was captured by Indians and was away for a couple of years, he returned home to find Rebecca with another baby. It looked a lot like his brother. Legend has it that Daniel was heard to mutter, “Well, it’s best to keep it in the family.”

Burritt College in Spencer, Tennessee has been closed since 1939 but now has a Facebook Page.

The gateway to Burritt College in Spencer. Closed in 1939, the college now has a Facebook Page. Doesn’t everyone?

There had been a college in Spencer at one time, which surprised me. It’s a small town. The gateway still stands. I decided to do some research. Burritt College, it turns out, was founded in 1848 as one of the first co-educational colleges in the South. At the time, putting young men and women together created a bit of a firestorm. They weren’t to be trusted. Who knows what temptations the devil might send their way? To solve the problem, the college adopted a strict moral code. Members of the opposite sex could only communicate with each other during class and at supervised events.

The students weren’t supposed to cuss, gamble, smoke or drink either. The latter presented a bit of a problem. This was moonshine country. The guys couldn’t resist an occasional sip, or several. Out of frustration, the president of the college went to the sheriff and asked him to destroy all stills in the area. He learned a valuable lesson: You don’t get between a Tennessee moonshiner and his still. The President’s house was burned down.

I made it through Spencer without running into any irate moonshiners, but I was soon to have personal encounters with a big, ugly dog and a speeding 18-wheeler. Those are stories for my next blog, however. I’ll also report in greater detail on the Scopes Monkey Trial, as the renowned journalist, H.L. Mencken, dubbed it.

NOTE: I occasionally post this reminder since new people regularly check in on my blog. In 1989, I did a six month solo bicycle journey around North America. This past spring, my wife Peggy and I re-drove the route. Most photos on these blogs about the trip were taken this spring.

Three Billion Shots of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey… The 10,000 Mile North American Bike Tour

 

"It's the water" is a frequent claim of those who produce alcohol. All Jack Daniel products come from Cave Spring shown here. The spring produces 800 gallons per minute.

“It’s the water” is a frequent claim of those who produce alcohol. All Jack Daniel’s products start with water from Cave Spring shown here. The spring produces 800 gallons per minute. I should have it talk to our five gallon per minute well.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you are out bicycling around North America. For example, today I am going to talk about visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.  It comes at the end of this post. But I thought I would start with a little whiskey math for fun.

Using American measurements, a barrel of Jack Daniel’s whiskey contains 260 bottles, or fifths, of whiskey. A fifth contains 17 shots. This translates into 4,420 shots per barrel. That’s a lot of drinking. But consider this: Our guide told us that Jack Daniel’s is the leading distributor of whiskey in the world. This means the company needs to have a lot in production at any given time. It also means they need to have a lot of whiskey in storage to allow for aging and for keeping up with demand.

The company can store 40,000 barrels on site. That used to be enough. No longer. The guide told us that Jack Daniel’s now has 11 buildings off site that store 60,000 barrels each.  Doing the math, I came up with 700,000 barrels. Here’s the fun part— that comes to over three billion shots of whisky. Bottoms up!

An illustration at the Jack Daniels Distillery showing one of its on-site barrel houses.

An illustration at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery showing one of its on-site barrel houses.

Barrel House No. 1 at the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, TN.

A view of the actual barrel house in Lynchburg.

I left you at Tishomingo State Park in northern Mississippi at the end of my last blog, recovering from my close encounter with the tornado. I could have used a shot or two of Jack Daniels then! But I had a ways to go to reach Lynchburg, including another 60 miles of the Natchez Trace. My Trace portion included a short 30 mile ride across the northwest corner of Alabama and another 30 mile ride into southern Tennessee where I picked up US Route 64. Along the way, I crossed over the Tennessee River, admired some blooming Dogwood, and stopped for a final view of the original Trace.

The Tennessee River as see from the Natchez Trace bridge across in in Alabama.

The Tennessee River as see from the Natchez Trace bridge in Alabama.

We were a little late to capture the Dogwood along the Natchez Trace at it's best, but even here it adds its own beauty along the road.

We were a little late to capture the Dogwood along the Natchez Trace at its best, but even here (on the left),  it adds its etherial beauty to the scenery.

The Natchez Trace was used so much during its heyday of the early 1800s, it cut deep grooves in the ground.

The Natchez Trace was used so much during its heyday of the early 1800s, it cut deep paths into the ground that can still be seen today.

I had travelled 359 miles on the Trace at this point and only had another 10 miles to go before I left it. I would miss its beauty and tranquility.

I had travelled 359 miles on the Trace at this point, and only had another 10 miles to go. I would miss its beauty and tranquility.

As I approached US 64, a sign informed me I would be heading toward David Crockett State Park and following the Trail of Tears.

My last sign on the Natchez Trace.

As I approached Route 64, a sign announced I would be following the Trail of Tears and heading toward David Crockett State Park. I had learned about Davy as a kid by watching Fess Parker’s 1955/56 television program at Allen Green’s house. I still remember the theme:

“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee— Greenest state in the land of the free— Raised in the woods so he knew ev’ry tree— Kilt him a be’ar when he was only three— Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!”

Being a want-to-be woodsman at the time, how could I forget such stirring words? Crockett was a genuine folk hero, however. In addition to his mythical knowledge of trees and killing bears at a young age, he served in Congress and adamantly opposed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Policies. Disgusted with Washington politics, he headed off to Texas where he was killed at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

It was President Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy that led to the tragic Trail of Tears, another dark spot in America’s history. Of all the Native Americans in the East, the Cherokee were among the best in adapting to the coming of the Europeans. They had intermarried with settlers, become farmers, and even created their own constitution for self-government. But none of this was enough. The American settlers on the frontier wanted their land.

Jackson and Congress aided them in their efforts by insisting that the Cherokee move. To achieve this, the military gathered the Cherokee into stockades and force-marched them 800 miles to Oklahoma. The journey was particularly hard on infants, children and the elderly. An estimated 4000 died along the way, nearly a fifth of the Cherokee population. It was because of this, that the Cherokee named the route the Trail of Tears.

On a much less significant level, I shed a virtual tear or two myself on leaving the Natchez Trace. I was leaving the commercial-free tranquility of the National Parkway to return to the world of crowded roads, fast-moving traffic, and ubiquitous 18 wheelers. I would also be dodging my way through towns and cities. On my way to Lynchburg, these included Lawrenceburg, Pulaski, and Fayetteville. Although the distance bordered on 90 miles, I figured I could make the trip in a long day.

A torrential downpour outside of Pulaski persuaded me otherwise. It wasn’t enough that the rain was flooding the road 3-5 inches deep in places; I managed to get a flat. I pulled off the highway, retrieved my waterproof emergency blanket, put it over the top of me, and proceeded to fix the flat, while somehow getting 100 gallons of water down the back of my neck.  (I am exaggerating, of course. It was only 98.) Although I was traveling east, my sense of humor went south. I grabbed a motel room in Pulaski and dried off while watching reruns of reruns on TV. Unfortunately, Davey Crockett wasn’t included.

US Route 64. As I have noted earlier, many of the two lane roads I travelled on in 1989 have become four-lane highways, often rerouted.

US Route 64. As I have noted earlier, many of the two lane roads I travelled on in 1989 have become four-lane highways today, often rerouted. Nice shoulder, though.

Limestone walls, such as this on US 64, are common on Tennessee Highways.

Limestone walls, such as this on US 64, are common on Tennessee Highways.

I have always found old barns interesting because of their character and photogenic quality. There were several along US 64.

I have always found old barns interesting because of their character and photogenic quality. There were several along US 64.

Another example.

Another example.

In Fayetteville, I left Route 64 and picked up Tennessee 50 toward Lynchburg.

In Fayetteville, I left Route 64 and picked up Tennessee 50 toward Lynchburg. Note the old windows in the red building. Some have been bricked in.

I easily made it into Lynchburg the next day and, in fact, biked on to Manchester. I did make a quick detour into the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, however. Peggy and I made a much more thorough visit on our route review this spring and were given an excellent tour of the facility. Here are a few things we learned.

A view of the "Company Store" in Lynchburg, Tennessee where you can even pick up used whisky barrels for planters.

A view of the “Company Store” in Lynchburg, Tennessee where you can pick up used whisky barrels for planters.

A sculpture of Jack Daniels with his foot resting on a barrel. The state was located on a rock. It's title was Jack Daniels on the Rocks.

A sculpture of Jack Daniel with his foot resting on a barrel. The statue was located on a rock. It’s title was Jack Daniel on the Rocks. Cave Spring is behind him.

Jack was either born in 1846, 49 or 50. People are still sorting that out. At a relatively young age, he was taken in by a minister and taught how to make whiskey. Does this make it God’s will? (I know, I am going to be struck down. BTW, don’t expect to be served any Jack Daniel’s in local restaurants. Lynchburg is located in a dry county.) By 1866 or 1875, Jack was operating his own distillery and using water from Cave Spring shown at the top.

A view of the creek leading out from Cave Spring. Again, note the lime. It adds interesting qualities to Jack Daniel's, and also serves to take out the iron that would give the whiskey a bad taste.

A view of the creek leading out from Cave Spring. Again, note the lime. It adds interesting qualities to Jack Daniel’s, and also serves to take out the iron that would give the whiskey a bad taste.

The creek as it makes its way through the distillery.

The creek as it makes its way through the distillery.

The primary ingredients for Jack Daniels. These are ground up into a mash, water from Cave Spring is added, and the concoction is boiled. It is then put into a fermenting vat where yeast is added creating alcohol. The alcohol is ten distilled and begins it journey through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal.

The primary ingredients for Jack Daniel’s. These are ground up, water from Cave Spring is added to make mash, and then the concoction is boiled. It is then put into a fermenting vat where yeast is added creating alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled and begins it journey through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. We were taken on a tour where we witnessed the process but weren’t allowed to take any photographs.

The whiskey would be a bourbon except for the fact that it is filtered through 10-feet of sugar maple charcoal at a drip-drip rate, a process that takes a week for the drop to make it from the top to the bottom. Its journey removes impurities from the alcohol. The whiskey is then put into oaken barrels that have been scorched on the inside and is aged for four years. The barrels are made on site and only used once. Tasters determine when the brew is ready. Whiskey from several barrels is blended to produce the distinctive Jack Daniels taste such as that found in Jack’s most famous blend, Old No 7.

Rick oven for turning the sugar maple wood seen here into charcoal.

Rick oven for turning the sugar maple wood (ricks) seen here into charcoal.

The company uses the 1866 date for its beginning, thus making 2016 its 150th Anniversary. To celebrate, it has produced a special whiskey called Sinatra Select. What, you say? Turns out that Frank was a great friend of Old No. 7. He always had a bottle within easy reach, whether he was singing in concert or on a TV special, flying on an airplane, visiting with friends, or in almost any other conceivable situation.  He was even buried with a bottle.

It is possible to obtain a bottle of single barrel select whiskey that hasn’t been blended. In fact, Jack Daniels wants you to buy it by the barrel for $10,000 each. The Master Taster or the Master Distiller will personally meet with you to provide a tour and help you in your selection. The company will even put your name up on its Single Barrel Wall of Fame. I walked around and checked out who was buying barrels. I found some particularly amusing.

If you choose to put down $10,000 and buy a barrel, it will be bottled up for you. You also get to keep the barrel.

If you choose to plop down $10,000 and buy a barrel, it will be bottled up for you. You also get to keep the barrel! Our guide uses the display as a leaning post. On the right, behind the bottles, you can see the Wall of Fame for people who have purchased a barrel— or more.

The Marines from Camp Pendleton seemed especially thirsty Each barrel on the plaque represents a barrel the Marines purchased. It's amazing how much a 'few good men' (and women today) can consume.

The Marines from Camp Pendleton seemed especially thirsty. Each barrel on the plaque represents a barrel they purchased. It’s amazing how much a ‘few good men’ (and women today) can consume.

This has to be all about quality control, right?

This has to be all about making sure that Jack Daniels meets state standards, right. A lot of testing has to go on…

Okay, I don't get this. These folks are Mormons, and, as far as i know, Mormons don't drink! I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Jack learned his trade from a minister. (grin)

Okay, here’s my last photo for today. I don’t get it. The majority of folks in Utah’s government, as far as I know, are Mormons— and Mormons don’t drink! Hmmm.

NEXT BLOG: I visit some beautiful waterfalls. An 18-wheeler misses me by about 6-inches while going over 60 and teaches me how to fly. I have a nose to nose confrontation with a humongous dog. We end the day in Dayton, Tennessee where man took on monkey in the infamous Scopes Trial.

 

Hiding Out from a Tornado on the Natchez Trace… The 10,000 Mile North American Bike Tour

The Pharr Mounds on the Natchez Trace were built around 2000 years ago.

The Pharr Mounds, ancient burial sites, are one of the most interesting views along the Natchez Trace. They became almost too interesting for me when a tornado roared through the area.

I left Tupelo with dark clouds hanging on the horizon. Nothing new here, I thought. It was a rare day when I didn’t see something threatening to pounce on me from the sky. Usually, nothing happened. Or I’d get caught in a downpour or two and dry off.  Why worry? Down in Texas I’d dodged a few hail storms and tornadoes, but dodged is the operative word. Besides, the weather is supposed to behave like that in the Lone Star State. I would have been disappointed without pavement-melting sun and golf ball size hail stones. Where would the stories be?

I was ten miles up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo when a driver flagged me down. “There’s a serious tornado warning on,” he told me. “You should consider getting off the Trace.” I thanked him for his concern. My alarm level climbed up the worry meter a few degrees. But it wasn’t a massive leap. I’d save that for when I spotted a flying cow. Besides, there wasn’t a side road where I was. And when I found one, who’s to say that my detour wouldn’t take me toward a tornado instead of away from it. So I biked on.

At mile marker 286.7, I came on the Pharr Mounds, one of the most interesting sites along the Natchez Trace. Eight large burial mounds cover some 90 acres. Built by hunter/gatherer tribes in the area some 2000 years ago, the mounds range from 3 to 18 feet in height. Artifacts found in the mounds suggest the builders were part of a trading culture that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

One of numerous arrow head looking signs along the Natchez Trace that announce historic sites.

One of numerous ‘arrowhead’ signs along the Natchez Trace that announce historic sites.

This photo of the Pharr Mounds site provides a perspective on just how large the site is.

This photo of the Pharr Mounds’ site provides a perspective on just how large the area is. Note the mounds in the distance. They are up to 18 feet tall.

The Pharr Mounds north of Tupelo, Mississippi cover some 90 acres.

Another shot that provides perspective on the size of the area.

Flowers growing on the Pharr Mounds along the Natchez Trace in Northern Mississippi.

A close up of the flowers that added color to the green grass.

A group of model airplane enthusiasts were flying their toys over the huge field. The planes were big ones with wide wingspans. I stopped to watch the action and check out the mounds. I became a little concerned when the hobbyists had a hurried discussion, brought in their planes, packed them up, and took off— quickly. Ah well, I thought, climbing back on my bike. But something wasn’t right. The sky had turned an eerie color. I looked at the clouds; they were circling, ominously. Now my alarm level made its massive leap, even without the flying cow. “Oh shit,” I thought.

I hurriedly looked around. The Pharr mounds had a sturdy looking restroom. I had just peed there. I might be peeing there again, real soon, having it scared out of me. The bottom half of the facility was made up of a rock wall. “Okay, Curt,” I commented to me, “this is your port in the storm.” The restrooms had a further advantage of having a covered porch. I could stay outside, be protected from the weather, and watch developments. If necessary, I could scurry inside and duck. I made myself comfortable and waited for the show.

A bright flash of light lit up the sky, followed instantly by an earth-shaking rumble, followed seconds later by a flood causing rain. Noah would have been impressed. The rain didn’t have the good sense to fall straight down. It came at me sidewise, drenching my thoughts of a dry porch. I love a good storm, but this one was becoming worrisome. “Well, Blue,” I said to my bike, “I think it is time to head inside.” I couldn’t be sure, but I think Blue responded with something like, “What took you so long?”

Sopping wet, Blue and I made a beeline for the bathroom. It was dry inside, even warm in comparison to the porch, but I could hear the storm tearing around the building. It sounded like a monster trying to smash its way in. And then it was calm, uncannily so. The monster was gone. Except it wasn’t. In the distance I heard a rumbling sound, like a herd of buffalo seeking revenge, coming for me. I almost lost it at this point. I pictured myself on the floor, snuggling up to the base of the toilet, and holding on for dear life while the roof came off and my bike took off like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Here I am, standing next to the restrooms that provided me with shelter in 1989. Peggy took this photo when we retraced my route this spring. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Here I am, standing next to the restrooms that provided me with shelter in 1989. Peggy took this photo when we retraced my route this spring. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I don’t know how long the roaring lasted: seconds, a few minutes, forever? I do know that it grew louder and louder— and then it was gone. The roof was still on; my bike was still there; and I had missed my close encounter with the toilet. I opened the door for a tentative look, not knowing what to expect. The sun had the nerve to peek out from behind a cloud. A few branches were on the ground. That was it; I had dodged the herd of buffalo (or tornado?) that came roaring through. A celebration was called for, and lunch.

I returned to the porch, retrieved my backpacking stove and boiled up a pot of water for tea and soup. The celebration part involved adding a generous dollop of 151 proof rum to the tea. I almost added another one to the soup. I was half way through the tea when a car pulled up. A woman piled out.

“Did you see a tornado?” she asked excitedly. “There was one just down the road!”

I figured “just down the road” was far too close. I finished my tea and soup, visited the restroom one last time and rode on to Tishomingo State Park, which is near the Alabama border. My ride up the Trace was nearing its end. Fortunately, I’d be there to enjoy it.

Tishomingo State Park on the Natchez Trace.

One of the campgrounds at Tishomingo State Park is located on this beautiful lake. I stayed here during my bile trip and Peggy and I have stayed here twice since.

Peggy toasts my avoiding the tornado.

Peggy toasts my avoiding the tornado. Had it carried me off, I wouldn’t have met her at the end of my bike trek.

Being an absolute sucker for reflection shots, here are three more from Tishomingo State Park:

A reflection shot at Tishomingo State Park along the Natchez Trace in northern Mississippi.

Tishomingo State Park near the Alabama border in Northern Mississippi.

I will conclude with this one I took as the sun set.

I will conclude with this one I took as the sun set.

NEXT BLOG: I finish up my ride on the Trace and cut across Tennessee to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg.

 

Mississippi Burning— Plus Elvis… The 10,000 Mile North America Bike Tour

I met this little fellow in a Natchez Trace Information Center in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He looked like he wanted to give me a hug so I decided to pass him on to you.

I met this little fellow in a Natchez Trace Information Center in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He looked like he wanted to give me a hug so I decided to pass him on to you.

 

“That boy is one tough son of a bitch.” –John Hamilton Carpenter

 

My friend, Morris Carpenter, picked me up in Jackson and gave me and my bicycle a ride to his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi. I’d be spending a week with him and his wife Marianna, the first major break in my bike ride. Morris and I go way back, all the way to 1961 when we were in student politics together at a community college in Northern California. Later, we both served as Peace Corps Volunteers in West Africa. I’ve written about that experience in my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam. Our paths have crossed numerous times since.

Morris lives on Azalea Drive so I photographed one.

Morris lives on Azalea Drive so I photographed a bush of them.

When my first wife and I parted ways, Morris even got the kid, our 70-pound Basset Hound, Socrates. Morris was living in Maine at the time, working for the Penobscot Indians. He had kept Socrates for us while Jo and I had spent six months travelling in the South Pacific and Asia. When we had returned and Jo had decided that she wanted a more stable, middle class life than my love of wandering and work for nonprofits supported, I’d called Morris with the bad news and asked if he could keep Socrates for a while longer. “He’s my dog now,” Morris had declared. He had fallen for the lovable, stubborn hound.

Socrates' grand dad had been a Canadian and America champion, or at least his papers so claimed. To us he was just a lovable dog who kept me company on backpacking trips.

Socrates’ grand dad had been a Canadian and America champion, or at least his papers so claimed. To me, he was just a lovable dog who kept me company on backpacking trips. Those feet could move more dirt than a steam shovel. I sometimes had to file environmental impact reports on his digging. (Kidding.)

Now Morris was working for the Choctaw Indians as their housing director. He had picked up his expertise by rebuilding villages in Vietnam destroyed by the Viet Cong.  In coming to Mississippi, he had come home. His roots were deep. His mom and dad had moved from the state to Northern California in the early 40s where his father had gone to work in the lumber industry. Morris, like me, had been born in Southern Oregon. For a while, when his dad had gone off to fight the Japanese in World War II, his mom had moved Morris and his sister back to the small town of Conway, Mississippi to live with their Uncle Wilson. The community is approximately 25 miles west of Philadelphia.

Morris has now retired. When he worked for the tribe, their primary source of income was light industry. Now it is this Casino located just outside of Philadelphia.

Morris has now retired. When he worked for the Choctaw, their primary source of income was light industry. Now it is this Casino located just outside of Philadelphia.

Morris still had many relatives living in the area. I was invited to a gathering of the clan. They wanted to meet Morris’s friend who was so crazy he would go on a 10,000-mile bike ride by himself. We sat around drinking bourbon and eating delicious Southern fried chicken while I entertained them with tales of life on a bicycle. Afterwards, Morris told me that his cousin, John Hamilton Carter, had said, “That boy is one tough son-of-a-bitch.” Morris assured me it was a compliment.

One day he had taken me for a ride over to Conway to revisit his childhood home. While we were out and about, he had driven me by the earthen dam outside of Philadelphia where three young civil right’s workers had been buried in 1964. They had been killed by the Ku Klux Clan in cooperation with the local city police and county sheriff’s department. A Baptist preacher had orchestrated the murders.

The Pearl River as it winds through Neshoba County Mississippi. Authorities would drag the river for the slain civil rights workers until an informal told them about the dam.

The Pearl River as it winds through Neshoba County, Mississippi. Authorities would drag the river for the slain civil rights workers until an informant told them about the dam.

You see a beautiful, bucolic sight like this in Neshoba County and wonder about the prejudice, hatred and violence that once existed in the county.

You see a bucolic site like this in Neshoba County and wonder how such prejudice, hatred and violence could exist in such a beautiful place.

The three had been working to register black voters. Mississippi had passed a constitution in 1890 effectively blocking blacks from voting. Using law and violence, the state had maintained the status quo since. Supreme Court rulings in the early 60s had challenged such laws. College students from throughout the nation had been recruited by civil rights organizations to help out during Mississippi’s “Freedom Summer.” Many Mississippians had been infuriated with this outside interference in their state. Thousands had joined the KKK.

I had listened to recruiters for the effort that spring at Berkeley. The idea appealed to me but I had to work summers to pay for my education. While I was driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, the young people were killed. Several students at Berkeley, including Mario Savio, had heeded the call, however, and spent their summer in Mississippi. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley that fall had grown out of the University’s efforts to block students from participating in such efforts. I’ve blogged about my involvement in the protest.

A massive investigation by the FBI was ordered by the US Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy. The FBI designated the effort, Mississippi Burning. (The 1988 movie  Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe was loosely based on the 1964 incident.) Eighteen individuals were eventually charged. When the state refused to prosecute them, they were tried in federal courts. Seven were eventually found guilty and received relatively light sentences. None served more than six years.

Interestingly, in 2004, a multi-ethnic group from Philadelphia urged that the issue be revisited. As a result, the 80-year old Baptist minister and sawmill owner Edgar Ray Killen, who had avoided prison earlier, was charged with orchestrating the murders, found guilty, and sentenced to serve 60 years in prison.

At the end of the week, Morris had driven me back to the Trace and I had restarted my journey. He had watched me until I disappeared. “I was afraid I might never see you again.” he confessed. Morris thought what I was doing was too dangerous. If you want danger, I had thought to myself, try rebuilding a village the Viet Cong had burned down when the Viet Cong was still in the area.

This pull off along the Natchez Trace is known as Pigeons Roost for the thousands of Passenger Pigeons (now extinct) that once roasted in them.

This pull off along the Natchez Trace is known as Pigeons’ Roost for the thousands of Passenger Pigeons (now extinct) that once roosted in these trees.

There is nothing endangered about this pretty daisy (Fleabane, I think) that was growing at the site.

There is nothing endangered about this pretty daisy (Fleabane, I think) that was growing at the site.

We pulled off to check out these beautiful horses.

Peggy and I pulled off to check out these  horses.

While we were there, a bike tourist who was riding the Trace, Don Glennon, stopped to talk with us.

While we were there, a bike tourist who was riding the Trace, Don Glennon, stopped to talk with us. His outfit looked a little neater, more organized, and more waterproof  than mine had.

While Peggy and I were talking with Don, I suddenly felt several bites on my leg. Fire ants had worked they way up though a crack in the cement sidewalk and were rapidly moving up my leg. Much faster than it has taken to write this description, I was in the van and had taken by pants off. Nasty, nasty bugs they are! I had scars for weeks afterwards. The photo above is a fire ants nest.

While Peggy and I were talking with Don, I suddenly felt several bites on my leg. Fire ants had worked their way up though a crack in the cement sidewalk and were rapidly moving up my leg. Much faster than it has taken me to write this description, I was in the van and had taken my pants off. Nasty, nasty bugs! I had scars for weeks afterwards. The photo above is a fire ants’ nest.

A day later found me in Tupelo where Elvis Presley had been born. What better place for an Elvis-sighting? Maybe he still haunted the area. When I had graduated from the eighth grade in 1957, our music teacher had asked us to choose a song to sing at the ceremony. We had chosen Love Me Tender. Our choice was immediately squashed. Young women were already swooning at Elvis concerts and they squealed when he wiggled his hips. The older generation was going bonkers over this threat to our morals. We were offered a compromise: The Civil War era song, Aura Lea.  Presley had used the tune from the song for Love Me Tender.

BTW: Elvis claimed, “I’m not trying to be sexy. It’s just my way of expressing myself when I move around.” Um, yeah.

This road takes you to the Presley Museum in Tupelo that is located where Elvis was born.

This road takes you to the Presley Museum in Tupelo that is located where Elvis was born.

The house that Elvis was born in and where he spent his first years.

The house that Elvis was born in and where he spent his first years.

A bronze statue of the young Elvis with guitar in hand.

A bronze statue of the young Elvis with guitar in hand.

NEXT BLOG: I hide in a brick outhouse to avoid a tornado.

The Natchez Trace: A Bicyclist’s Paradise… The 10,000 Mile North American Bicycle Tour

The Natchez Trace between Natchez and Jackson Mississippi.

I don’t think there is a place along the Natchez Trace that isn’t beautiful. I traveled on it for 370 miles of its 450 mile length.

A large, yellow mutt came wagging his way into my camp. I’d unpacked my gear, set up my tent, and taken off my shoes and socks. My toes were celebrating their freedom.

“Well hello big fellow,” I said to the dog, glad for the company. He sat down beside me and worked his head under my hand, demanding that I scratch behind his ears. Then I was required to pet the rest of him. I had just worked my way down to his tail when he rolled over and insisted on equal treatment for his tummy.

I provided an initial scratch but my coffee water had started boiling. “Priorities,” I told him, “the petting zoo is closed.” Apparently this meant it was play time. He leapt up, grabbed one of my socks, and bounced off about 15 feet.  “Hey! Bring that back,” I urged. Fat chance. He put the sock down, backed off a couple of feet, and started barking.

I finished pouring the hot water into my coffee filter and got up, tiredly, to retrieve my sock. It had been an 80-mile day and I really didn’t want to play ‘chase the dog around the yard.’ I pretended that I didn’t care, that I wasn’t going for the sock, and that I was terribly interested in a large bullfrog that had taken up residence in the swimming pool. The pool hadn’t been cleaned since the previous summer. It made a great pond.

The dog didn’t buy it. He dashed in, grabbed the sock and ran off across the yard. “Okay, you win,” I declared while picking up a stick. “How about a game of chase the stick?” The dog cocked his head and increased his wags per second. I tossed the stick and off he dashed, leaving my sock behind. I quickly bare-footed it across the lawn and grabbed my sock.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Dog,” I called after him while waving the sock about enticingly. To compensate my new friend for his loss, I played tug-of-war with the stick. We growled at each other appropriately, all in good fun.

It was early to bed. I had completed my trip from Alexandria by biking through the city of Natchez and was now camped about a mile from the beginning of the Natchez Trace.  I was eager to get up the next morning and start my 370-mile journey up the fabled Parkway through Mississippi and Alabama into Tennessee. As I zipped up my tent, the big yellow mutt did three dog turns outside the door and plopped down, making me wonder where his home was. I was hardly in a position to adopt a pet. Besides, he was well fed and wearing a dog tag.

My last memory before going to sleep was of the bullfrog singing to his lady-love. “Chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum.”

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

Peggy and I drove through Natchez on a Sunday morning and pretty much had the historic section of the downtown to ourselves.

Historic building with balcony in Natchez, Mississippi.

This historic building in Natchez came with an attractive balcony.

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi on a quiet Sunday.

The colors captured my attention here.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was busy with its Sunday service so I didn’t go inside.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is located in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

It was quite impressive from the outside, however.

Natchez has an interesting history. Once the site of a major Native American village, its initial contact with Europeans goes all the way back to Hernando de Soto in the mid 1500s. He wandered through the area searching for gold to steal, the primary occupation of Spanish Conquistadores. By the 1700s the French had entered the area followed by the British, the Spanish again, and finally, in 1795, the Americans. Native groups in the region included the Natchez, Chickasaw, Yazoo, Cherokee, and Creek, as well as the Choctaw further to the north.

As for the Natchez Trace, its beginning goes back 10,000 years and was probably tied to buffalo travelling along ridges doing buffalo things. Since these broad, heavy animals make good trails (think of them as early day bulldozers), Native Americans were soon using the routes for trade and travel between large communities.

The next stage in the Trace’s evolution was brought about by river trade in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Kaintucks, boatmen from the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, loaded flatboats with merchandise and paddled downstream to Natchez or New Orleans where they made handsome profits for their goods. The challenge was that you don’t row a boat up the mighty Mississippi. The boatmen had to hike or ride horses home. They sold their boats as lumber and made their way back to Nashville via the Natchez Trace

It was an adventure. There is a reason why the Trace became known as The Devil’s Backbone. It was crawling with highway men eager to separate the Kaintucks from their newly earned wealth. And that assumes that they could even get their money out of Natchez where cheap whiskey cost a fortune, hot love was based on cold cash, and cut-throats came by the bushel.

The development of steamboats in the 1820s changed things dramatically. These boats with their large, steam-driven paddle wheels could travel upriver. Boatman no longer had to hike or ride horses back to Nashville while fighting off thieves.  Gradually, people stopped using the Trace and it faded from memory.  But not totally.

In 1903, the Mississippi chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took on a project of placing markers along the original route. In 1918 the precursor to the Natchez Trace Association was created with the rallying cry of “Pave the Trace!” Work on the Parkway was started in 1937 and in 1938 it became a unit of the National Park system.

When I rode my bike out of Natchez in the spring of 1989, the Trace was mainly complete and had become something of a bicyclists’ paradise. (Today it is considered one of the top ten bike rides in America.)   To start with, there was no commercial traffic. No 18 wheelers would be whizzing by me. Nor were there any commercial properties or billboards, just lots of beautiful woods and small farms. Campgrounds and restrooms were located conveniently along the way.  Frequent rest stops featured local history. I was free to ride along and enjoy the scenery.

But I did have two responsibilities. The first was to persuade the large, yellow mutt that he wasn’t going with me. It started with a discussion in camp that I thought he had understood. Where I was going was dangerous for doggies. It was dangerous enough for me. About a mile from camp I chanced to look back, there he was, about 50 yards back. I stopped and waited for him to catch up, all a waggle. “No!” I said forcefully. “You cannot go. Go Home!” The tail stopped wagging. Two sad brown eyes accused me of horrendous deeds. Ever so slowly, he turned around and started back, tail between his legs. I felt terrible.

The second chore was more pleasant— rescuing baby turtles. Bunches were migrating across the Trace outside of Natchez. Each time I came on a crowd, I would stop, climb off my bike, and give the little tykes a lift across the pavement. I knew that there would be more coming along behind but I must have transported at least a hundred,undoubtedly saving them from being run over.

Following are several photos of the Trace from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi that I took during the route review Peggy and I did this past spring.  In my next blog we will make a slight detour to the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi where a good friend lives and then head up the Trace to Tupelo and visit with Elvis.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

There are a number of barns.

There are a number of barns.

These trees had yet to leaf out.

These trees were just beginning to leaf out. I enjoyed the silhouettes they created.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences similar to ones that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

 

 

Roadkill A-la-Carte and the Mighty Mississippi… Travelling 10,000 miles by Bicycle

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River.

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River.

 

What was it with all of the dead Armadillos? This was the weighty question I found myself pondering as I bicycled down Louisiana Highway 71 south toward Alexandria.

Bicyclists develop a thick-skinned attitude toward road kill. The shoulder we ride on contains the flotsam and jetsam of two worlds, the highway and the land next to it. Broken car parts, discarded (often smoldering) cigarette butts, empty beer cans, fast-food trash, and dead animals come with the territory. Maintaining a sense of humor is important.

To keep myself amused, I would sometimes make up tombstone epitaphs for the animals. Here lies Spot, who was finally cured of chasing cars. Or how about this: Old Tom had been warned time and again about not chasing girl kitties on the other side of the road.

Those of you who have been hanging around my blog for a while know I like to develop weird cards. This is my vision of Old Tom's tombstone.

Those of you who have been hanging around my blog for a while know I like to develop weird cards. This is my vision of Old Tom’s tombstone.

A couple of friends of mine who operated the Lung Association Trek Program in Sacramento after I went off to Alaska, developed a different approach to roadside debris: a scavenger hunt. I’ve blogged about this before. On the last day of the Trek, participants would be given a list of different items they were supposed to collect— things like an empty pack of Camels, a Budweiser beer can, a McDs’ cup, plastic from a broken brake light, a sail cat, etc.

“A sail cat? What’s that?” you ask.

A sail cat, simply put, is a cat who has met its demise at the wrong end of a logging truck. Think of it as a pancake with legs. After a week or two of curing in the hot summer sun, you can pick it up and sail it like a Frisbee. Even your dog can join in the fun. It gives a whole new meaning to chasing cats. Of course, Fido may prefer to roll on it. Lucky you.

A particular scavenger hunt was described to me. One couple had actually found a sail cat and brought it into camp. Naturally they won, as they should have. But the story goes on. After dropping the unfortunate cat into a dumpster, the couple packed up and headed home. When they arrived and opened their trunk, there was kitty. Scary, huh. Turns out another couple had slipped the cat into the trunk. With friends like that, eh, who needs enemies. That should end the story, except it doesn’t. Both husbands worked for the State of California. A couple of days later the perpetrator of the prank received a large interoffice mail packet at work. He opened it. Out slid kitty. The end.

One person’s road kill is another person’s feast, right? Somewhere I have a newspaper picture of my brother Marshall chowing down on an armadillo when he was in Florida. I checked the Internet and there are a number of recipes, so I assume it is edible. Marsh said it was. And I saw a lot of happy buzzards along Highway 71.

I had never encountered as much roadkill as I did following this attractive highway into Alexandria on my bicycle in 1989. I never did figure out why.

I had never encountered as much roadkill as I did following this attractive highway into Alexandria on my bicycle in 1989.

None of this explains the sheer number of dead armadillos, however. After six or seven I began to lose my sense of humor. Were they migrating across the road in large numbers at night? Had the people whose job it was to remove roadkill gone on strike. I never did figure it out, but I am happy to report when Peggy and I drove the same road to Alexandria a couple of months ago, we didn’t see one dead armadillo.

I really hadn’t planned on going to Alexandria, in fact the jaunt added a hundred miles to my journey. Motels and bike repairs had reduced my cash to around $50, however, and this was still a time when ATMs didn’t grow on every corner. Alexandria was the nearest city that accepted my particular brand of plastic. The town, I quickly learned, was not bike friendly, at least at the time. Few cities were. And I had the misfortune of arriving at the height of rush hour and then immediately getting lost. My already low sense of humor dropped another notch.

Several map checks persuaded me that a narrow bridge making a steep climb up and over a small bayou provided a way out. A long line of commuters was struggling to get through the bottleneck, and, judging from the honking, not happy about the delay. Adding to my woes, there wasn’t enough room for two cars and me to co-exist side by side on the bridge. Steeling myself, I forced my way into the insanity and became leader of the pack, adding several more minutes to an already long day for the homeward bound. I swear there must have been 10,000 cars behind me. At least it felt that way. It was one hell of a parade. All I needed was a baton.

I have to hand it to the good folks of Alexandria, however. Not one of them honked at me. Several waved when I pulled off the road on the other side. A couple of young women even rolled down their window and whistled. Up went my sense of humor.

I found a motel that fit my budget that night and the ATM the next morning. Heading out of town I became lost again, of course, this time on an expressway where drivers were competing with each other to see how fast they could drive beyond the speed limit. My thoughts turned to the armadillos and their unfortunate end. The first exit found me departing the road at a speed that would have impressed Mario Andreotti.

A not very pretty picture of the expressway I ended up on and Highway 28 where I was supposed to be.

A not very pretty picture of the expressway I ended up on and Highway 28 where I was supposed to be.

I pulled into the driveway of a mortuary to check my map again. Much to my surprise, the double doors opened and out popped the mortician, who made a beeline for me. My mind leapt back in time to an early Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western where the mortician measured strangers who rode into town to see what size casket he should build. While laughing to myself, I still checked the mortician’s hands to see if he was carrying a tape measure. Turns out the mortician was a minister and the mortuary was a church. He invited me in for coffee, a morning snack and directions. As I left, he handed me his card. “If you have any problems between here and Mississippi,” he told me, “call and I’ll come out and give you a lift.”

Soon I was heading out of town on Highway 28 to rejoin Louisiana 84, my original route across the state. From there, I biked on to the mighty Mississippi River. The route from Alexandria proved to be quite varied. I biked past dark swamps, lakes, shacks, mansions and cotton fields that were once worked by slaves. Finally, I arrived at Vidalia and the imposing Vidalia-Natchez Bridge that would take me across the Mississippi and out of Louisiana. The historic town of Natchez and the Natchez Trace were waiting.

Intriguing swamps lined the highway. I spent a lot of time glancing down into them looking for snakes.

Intriguing swamps lined the highway. I spent a lot of time looking down for swamp life.

I should have spent more time looking up. These egrets reminded me of a Japanese print.

I should have spent more time looking up. These egrets reminded me of a Japanese print.

This was an interesting little store that Peggy and I found along the road. It sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out if there was anything on Root Hog or Die. I thought maybe the owner was an Arkansas Razorback fan. Turns out the phrase dates back to the early 1800s when hogs were turned loose in the woods to survive on their own. It came to mean self-reliance.

This was an interesting little store that Peggy and I found along the road. It sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out if there was anything on Root Hog or Die. I thought maybe the owner was an Arkansas Razorback fan. Turns out the phrase dates back to the early 1800s when hogs were turned loose in the woods to survive on their own. It came to mean self-reliance.

This lake was worth a photo.

This lake was worth a photo. It made me wish that Peggy and I had brought our kayaks along.

The Frogmore Cotton Plantation near Vidalia provides an interesting overview what it would have been like to have been a slave working on a Southern Plantation. Peggy models the bag that picked cotton was put in out in the fields.

The Frogmore Cotton Plantation near Vidalia provides an interesting overview on what it would have been like to have been a slave working on a Southern Plantation. Peggy models a bag  where the picked cotton would have been placed.

This mocking bird wondered how bicycling compared to flying. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This mocking-bird wondered how bicycling compared to flying. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A side view of the Visalia-Natchez Bridge across the Mississippi River with a barge passing under it.

A side view of the Vidalia-Natchez Bridge across the Mississippi River with a barge passing under it.

A view of the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge.

An interesting perspective of the bridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River at night.

The bridge at night.

On our way into Natchez, Mississippi and the beginning of the Natchez Trace, which will be the subject of my next blog.

On our way into Natchez, Mississippi and the beginning of the Natchez Trace, which will be the subject of my next blog. The wide shoulder is appreciated; not so much the long drop into the Mississippi River.

Louisiana, and an Offer of Hooch plus… Traveling 10,000 Miles by Bicycle

Joe Roughneck, the symbol of the oil industry. My father worked as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil boom of the late 20s until he decided he would prefer to paint scenery for plays.

Joe Roughneck, the symbol of the oil industry. My father worked as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil boom of the late 20s until he decided he would prefer to paint scenery for plays.

 

Hooch: Slang for moonshine or bootleg alcohol. —The Urban Dictionary

I biked out of Greenville, ever so glad to be on my way. One week of dealing with a wheel and weather was enough. A mile and a half later my back tire went flat. This wasn’t a normal flat that I could fix with my eyes closed. My strong new spokes were digging into the tube. Something really didn’t want me to leave Texas. I walked my bike back into Greenville and checked in with a small bike shop, resigned to deal with whatever fate the bike gods had in store for me. Not much, it turned out. The shop quickly fixed the problem with a thicker rim tape and I was on my way.

I hightailed it down Texas Highway 69, making up for lost time. Small towns flew by. Lone Oak, Emory, and Mineola provided sustenance to keep my legs pumping. My journal reports I stopped for coffee and pie, a hamburger and an ice cream cone.

A couple of buildings as they look today in Lone Oak. I am a fan of communities that decide to renovate their historic buildings.

A couple of buildings as they look today in Lone Oak. I am a fan of communities that decide to renovate their historic buildings.

A car and RV wash in Mineola. They didn't do bikes.

A car and RV wash in Mineola. They did “bikes” but not bicycles.

Everything was green, an amazing contrast to the dry desert country I had been bicycling through since California. And, this is big news— there were pine trees! I hadn’t seen one since Lincoln County in New Mexico. It made me feel at home, almost.

Green, green grass and pine trees in the rolling hills as East Texas.

Green, green grass and pine trees in the rolling hills of East Texas.

Happy cows for me to moo at.

Happy cows for me to moo at.

One of the things about Mineola that caught my attention was that the Texas Governor, Jim Hogg, had lived in the town. His daughter was born there and he named her Ima, as in Ima Hogg. To the degree karma works, I’ve always imagined the Governor being reborn as a pig with a pork chop factory in his future. Ima never married (I would have done it for the name change alone), reportedly was close to her father, and went on to be an important figure in Texas Society. Maybe she was like Sue in the Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue; the name made her tough.

Willie Brown, the flamboyant California politician, was born here as well. He was serving as Speaker of the California Assembly while I was cycling across the country. Brown was incredibly effective at passing and suppressing legislation. Voting Willie’s way brought substantial rewards. Voting against him brought swift punishment. Like him or not, he made government work. Washington could learn a thing or two.

I had run into Brown’s ability to kill bills a couple of years earlier when I was working with a group to increase tobacco taxes in California and devote a significant portion of the revenues to prevention programs. Almost every state in the country had increased tobacco taxes since California had last raised its tax in the 70s. The tobacco industry paid big bucks to California legislators to keep it that way. The bill was assigned to a committee guaranteed to kill it. We couldn’t even get a second. Fortunately, we had been prepared for this likelihood and had quietly planned to run an initiative campaign if the legislative effort failed. I called a press conference immediately after the vote and we announced our initiative.  The committee’s no-vote gave us a great kickoff. The press conference received major media attention throughout California. Thanks Willie.

I rode another 15 miles from Mineola to Interstate 20 where darkening clouds led me to call it a day. It had been a good day of bicycling, the first since my spoke had broken outside of Decatur.

The next morning, I was up early and heading into Tyler. The road had a wide shoulder, which is always appreciated by bicyclists.  I could relax a bit and not worry so much about being flattened by a car or semi. Most drivers are cautious and courteous when around bicyclists, but there are exceptions. I always rode as far to the right as was safe and kept a wary eye out for developing situations. Several times on my trip, I was forced to bail out, riding my bike off the road into the dirt and weeds, or even a ditch. Somehow, I always avoided crashing.

In Tyler, I was almost taken out, however. The city was more urban than most I traveled through on my trip and hillier than I had become used to in Texas. I was riding along, minding my own business when a woman turned right across my route, missing my front tire by inches— and then only because I had slammed on my brakes! She must have been half blind since I was wearing bright clothes.  Either that or she was high on something. She didn’t seem to hear very well either. When I suggested, loudly, that she be more careful, she ignored me and drove off. I sent a bird flying after her. Bad Curt.

There was nothing to do but stop at a DQ and quiet my nerves by downing a hamburger and a milkshake. The owner came out and sat down to chat. I told him about my encounter. He was quite empathetic. His brother owned a bike shop. Afterwards I was feeling a little punky. It may have had something to do with how fast I had sucked down the milkshake. Anyway, I made it a short day, stopping in Henderson.

A Tyler Texas DQ.

A Tyler, Texas DQ.

The area around Henderson had been part of one of the largest oil booms in Texas history. In 1930, “Dad” Joiner, a 70-year-old oilman out of Tennessee and Oklahoma, had refused to give up on his belief that there was oil in the area, almost bankrupting himself in his search. Finally, at 8:00 pm on October 3, one of the wells he had drilled on Daisy Bradford’s farm eight miles west of Henderson gushed out oil and a ‘black gold’ rush was under way. I’m pretty sure that Daisy did a dance of joy. Henderson grew from a sleepy town of 2,000 to a booming 10,000, the roads became clogged with fortune seekers, and oil derricks sprang up in the surrounding region thicker than fleas on a hound, as the good ol’ boys down South like to say. To date, over five billion barrels of oil have been taken from the East Texas Oil Field.

A rest area near Henderson appropriately featured oil derrick decorations as covers of the picnic tables.

A rest area near Henderson appropriately featured oil derrick decorations as covers of the picnic tables. This is also where Peggy and I found the Joe Roughneck statue.

The next day found me traveling through piney woods that contained almost as many Baptist Churches as there were people. Or at least it seemed like it. I’d definitely made it to the Bible Belt. Following a round about way, I hit one road that was so remote it had me thinking Deliverance. Finally, I picked up Route 84, crossed the Sabine River, and entered Logansport, Louisiana. It was May 7th. I’d been in Texas for 18 days, or was that 1800?

Road construction, dust, and impatient drivers hurried me through Logansport. I stopped at a small bayou outside of town to catch my breath and spotted a water moccasin/cotton mouth slithering through the murky water. He was one big ugly dude, a pit viper with a serious attitude problem. I didn’t hang around. A few miles later, I started looking for a place to camp. It was approaching dark. I spotted an old, overgrown road that made its way into a pine forest where I could hide out. I set up my tent, climbed in, and zipped it up tight. That night I dreamed of gigantic snakes chasing me down the highway, mouths wide open, fangs dripping with poison. Two or three times I woke up to creatures stirring around in the forest outside my tent.

A Louisiana bayou: half river and half swamp. All jungle. Picture a large water moccasin slithering across its smooth surface.

A Louisiana bayou: half river and half swamp. All jungle. Picture a large water moccasin slithering across its smooth surface. The photo reminds Peggy and me of our boat trip up the Amazon.

I found an overgrown road leading into a pine forest for my campsite.

I found an overgrown road leading into a pine forest for my campsite. It provided cover from the road, but were there any snakes?

I was glad to be up and on my way the next morning, continuing to follow Highway 84. No monstrous serpents were hounding me but I still made good time. I stopped in Mansfield for breakfast and headed on. Large logging trucks carrying long, toothpick size logs kept me company, zipping by at speeds guaranteed to give me grey hair. Intense poverty was reflected in barely standing small houses. Dark, jungle-like growth edged the highway. I was sure it was crawling with snakes. A young man yelled at me to get off the road. His white-haired granny was too nervous to pass me on the narrow highway.

I crossed the Red River into Coushatta and worked my way south. Threatening clouds filled the sky and decided to let loose between the small towns of Campi and Clarence. And boy did they let loose. Soaked to the bone, I began thinking about a warm, dry, snake-free motel room. I found one outside of Clarence.

Coushatta, like its Texas cousins featured its his school and sports heroes.

Coushatta, like its Texas cousins, featured its high school and sports heroes dating all the way back to 1938. Since we took this photo in April it appears they haven’t had any champion teams for a long time. Either that or their sign is in desperate need of updating. Given that it still had a Seasons Greeting sign on it, I am thinking the latter.

Dark clouds over Clarence.

Dark clouds over Clarence.

After unpacking and putting on a set of dry clothes, I went outside to sit under the porch overhang, read a book, and sip on a beer. A large, black woman came over and plopped down in the chair next to mine. She had watched me bicycle in.

“What you all doing, Honey?” she asked. I explained I was in the middle of a 10,000-mile bike trip. “No way! You are one crazy man!” she exclaimed. “Say,” she went on, “I have some hooch over in my room. Why don’t you come over and try some?” I’d been propositioned before, but never with hooch. “Tempting,” I’d replied laughing, but then claimed a non-existent wife who didn’t want me “drinking hooch” on the trip. Instead I offered her a beer which she readily accepted. She was a funny woman and we had a delightful conversation. As she left she told me again, “If you change your mind about the hooch, Honey, just come over and knock on my door. Anytime tonight.”

NEXT BLOG: I bike a hundred miles out of my way to find an ATM in Alexandria, Louisiana and then head on to the mighty Mississippi River.

We Live in a Zoo… A One Post Break from the Bike Tour

A long blacktail deer looks in a window in the Applegate Valley.

The deer often look in our windows, checking out the strange two-legged creatures who live in a cage. Or maybe they are looking for apples.

We’ve been working hard on the bike trek— me writing and you reading. It’s time for a one post quicky, one long on cute photos and short on words.

I  sometimes think that Peggy and I live in a zoo, but we are the ones in the cage (house) while the animals run around free. When we returned in June from our ten-week revisit of my 10,000 mile bike trip, a herd of deer had encamped around our house. They had taken over. There was even one sleeping on the doorstep to our sunroom!  Who needs a dog?

This young buck has decided we are part of his family and comes around everyday for a while in between grazing.

Little Buck has decided we are part of his family and comes around everyday in between grazing. Here he is resting on the door mat of our sunroom. A giraffe sculpture is off to the left.

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that Peggy and I live on five acres of land in southern Oregon. The Applegate River runs through the front of our property while a million acres of national forest land are out the backdoor. It’s no surprise that a number of wild animals and birds consider our property part of their territory. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bears, deer, and skunks wander through our yard at will. There have even been cougars and wolves spotted in the area. Bigfoot is rumored to hang out in the Red Butte Mountains you can see from our deck (grin).

The Red Butte Mountains as see from our deck, front room and sunroom. They are 10 miles away in Northern California. Don't they look like an ideal home for Big Foot.

The Red Butte Mountains as seen from our deck, front room and sunroom. They are 10 miles away in Northern California. Doesn’t this look like an ideal home for Big Foot?

Except for the skunk who wants to live under our house and the bear who is known to go a few rounds with our garbage can on occasion, they are all welcome. The skunk was particularly irksome when it got excited as the toilet flushed and decided to spray under the house. Then there was the time he got in a territorial battle with a raccoon in our back yard and let go. (I caught that one on my night camera.)

The bear earned a barrel of demerits when he tackled my heavy Weber Grill and tipped it over on our back porch. Our daughter, Tasha, was visiting at the time and sleeping in the bedroom next to the porch. “CURTIS!!!” she screamed. Did you hear her? I’m surprised she has been back. And we still haven’t convinced her to let the grandkids sleep outside.

The deer (along with a variety of birds including wild turkeys) are the most obvious day-time visitors. They camp out in the shade, receive regular lectures from Peggy about not eating her flowers, and try to wheedle apples out of us. Here are some shots we’ve taken in the last few weeks. Enjoy. I’ll be back with the bike trip in my next blog.

The moms have started bring their kids by to introduce them.It is one of our favorite times of the year.

The moms have started bringing their kids by to introduce them.It is one of our favorite times of the year.

It almost seems like this doe is doing a curtsy. "Let me present my two babies."

It almost seems like this doe is doing a curtsy. “Let me present my two babies.”

The fawns are so tiny at first.

The fawns are so tiny at first.

This tyke has a long ways to go to grow into its legs.

This tyke has a long ways to go to grow into its legs.

"Who are these two legged creatures, Mom? I bet I can out run them."

“What are these two-legged creatures, Mom? I bet I can out run them.”

Mom has to work hard to get enough food to feed her babies, especially when she has twins. Here she is working a white oak in front of our house. Peggy has worked had to find deer resistant plants. The deer are welcome to the oak leaves.

Mom has to work hard to get enough food to feed her babies, especially when she has twins. Here she is munching on white oak leaves in front of our house. Peggy struggles to find deer resistant plants. The deer is welcome to the leaves.

Five bucks hang out on our property. These include Big Buck seen here, a bigger buck, a forked horn, a spike and Little Buck.

Five bucks hang out on our property. These include Big Buck seen here, a bigger buck, a forked horn, a spike and Little Buck.

He really is handsome, and seems to know it.

He really is handsome, and seems to know it.

His antlers are still growing and in velvet. By September the antlers will lose their velvet and Big Buck will be ready of his lady love, or, as he prefers, lady loves.

This forked horn’s antlers are still growing and in velvet. By September the antlers will lose their velvet and this fellow will be ready to pursue his lady-love, or, as he prefers, lady loves. The action around our place gets pretty hilarious.

Little Buck is too small to get in on the action. It isn't that he won't have it in mind, but the bigger bucks, which is just about everyone, will chase him away. Here he seems to be commenting on the fact.

Little Buck is too small to get in on the action. It isn’t that he won’t want to, but the bigger bucks will chase him away. Here he seems to be commenting on the unfairness of it all.

My last photo for the day. Little Buck looks cute in hopes of earning an apple.

My last photo for the day. Little Buck looks cute in hopes of earning an apple.